Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, that affects nearly 3-6 million people in the United States. Also known as AFib or AF, atrial fibrillation can increase your risk of stroke, heart failure, and other heart conditions. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your heart from AFib.
Dr. Henock Saint-Jaques and his highly skilled team of cardiologists at Harlem Cardiology on Madison Avenue in East Harlem, New York, are committed to helping you prevent heart disease and conditions like AFib from affecting your health and diminishing your quality of life. This elite cardiology team has the background, training, and state-of-the-art technology to diagnose cardiovascular problems and develop a personalized prevention and treatment plan to keep you and your heart healthy.
Atrial fibrillation explained
Atrial fibrillation is a form of arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat. When you experience AFib, the upper two chambers of your heart (the atria) beat irregularly. Typically, this irregular heartbeat is a rapid, quivering heartbeat.
You may experience atrial fibrillation periodically, or it can develop into a long-term health concern. Atrial fibrillation itself isn’t a life-threatening condition, but it’s a serious medical issue because you can develop blood clots in the upper chambers of your heart as a result.
AFib disrupts normal blood flow to the lower chambers of your heart and then to the rest of your body. If a clot forms in the atria, it can block blood flow to your brain and increase your risk of having a stroke. Blood clots can also circulate to other organs in your body and lead to ischemia (blocked blood flow).
Atrial fibrillation symptoms
Some people have no symptoms at all — AFib isn’t like a heart attack where it occurs suddenly, but rather the effects of the condition occur over time. Heart failure can occur because AFib has worn down the heart muscle and the ventricles have to work harder than normal to pump blood into the upper chambers. If you do have symptoms of atrial fibrillation, you may experience any of the following:
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Fainting, lightheadedness, or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty exercising
Although AFib itself isn’t always cause for alarm, if you experience any of these symptoms regularly, you should schedule an exam with one of our expert cardiologists so we can determine the underlying causes and prescribe appropriate, potentially life-saving treatment.
Causes and risk factors
Several different underlying causes can lead to atrial fibrillation, including:
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal heart valves
- Congenital heart defects
- Sleep apnea
- Coronary artery disease
- Previous heart surgery
- Viral infections
- Heart valve disease
- Coronary artery disease
- Congestive heart failure
The exact cause of atrial fibrillation isn’t always clear, but your risk increases as you get older. Additionally, certain risk factors that may lead to AFib include:
- Thyroid conditions
- Metabolic syndrome
- Family history of atrial fibrillation
- Being a white male
- Lung disease
- Drinking alcohol
Treating other health conditions and adopting a healthy lifestyle can help prevent AFib and protect your heart.
Protect your heart
Many cases of atrial fibrillation are treatable and manageable, but the condition tends to worsen over time, especially if you don’t take steps to protect your heart and prevent AFib from recurring. Reduce your risk of AFib by:
- Eating a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, and low in saturated fats
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Not smoking
- Not binge drinking alcohol
- Reducing caffeine intake
- Reducing salt intake
Depending on the severity of your atrial fibrillation, your cardiologist at Harlem Cardiology may prescribe medications to control your heart rhythm or blood thinners to prevent clots from forming.
In severe or chronic cases of AFib, your doctor may need to reset your heart rate and rhythm through electrical cardioversion or cardioversion with medications. Electrical cardioversion resets your heart’s rhythm by delivering a small electrical shock. Cardioversion with medication helps restore optimal heart rhythm through oral or IV medications.
If more conservative measures don’t produce the desired results, your cardiologist may recommend catheter and surgical procedures to restore heart rhythm or to implant a pacemaker.
If you’re concerned about atrial fibrillation for yourself or a family member, make an appointment at Harlem Cardiology today by calling 646-381-2181. You can also request an appointment online anytime.